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Protecting Our Children: Knowledge Is Power!

by Pattie Fitzgerald

At a recent workshop I was conducting for parents at a local school, there was a common concern among almost all the participants. While everyone agreed that it was extremely important to begin talking to their children about safety issues, most were unsure how to do so without instilling fear or making their kids “paranoid.” As a result, many parents reluctantly admitted to avoiding the whole topic because they just weren’t sure when or how to bring it up. After everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief because they weren’t the only ones procrastinating, we discussed a number of ways to empower the kids in a positive and effective manner.

Q. My daughter is almost 5 years old and I know I’ve got to start teaching her some important safety rules. However, I’ve been afraid to bring up the topic for fear of scaring her or making her feel uncomfortable. How can I teach her what she needs to know, without frightening her or making her anxious?

A. In my experience, I have found that it is often a parent’s style of communicating that determines whether or not their child becomes fearful. Think of it this way: you’ve probably had plenty of conversations already about other safety issues, like crossing the street or staying away from the lit stove, etc. And undoubtedly, you’ve approached these topics with a simple, matter-of-fact tone, laying out the ground rules in a firm yet loving manner. For example, you have probably often said something to your child such as “We always look both ways before we cross the street!” You haven’t made your child paranoid about getting hit by a car, but you have casually instilled an important safety rule, which she will remember for years to come.

It’s really no different when we’re teaching our kids how to stay safe. In fact, I’ve coined the child-friendly term “safe-smarts” and encourage parents to use that expression when they begin introducing safety concepts to their kids.

Look for lots of “teachable moments” when you can begin to talk about safety awareness- perhaps during your neighborhood walk to the park, or in the car on the way to the mall. Concepts should be presented clearly and simply. An easy one to start with is the idea that “safe grownups don’t ask kids for help.” You can also practice “what if” strategies with your child, such as “what if we get separated while we’re in a store?” or “what if a grownup you don’t know asks you for help finding their lost puppy?”

Remember to present ideas in a casual, easy-going tone. If you are teaching any concept with a feeling of anxiety or fear, your child will sense that and feel afraid, too. Children do not need to be frightened to get the message. In fact, the opposite is true, especially when teaching safety rules and skills.

There is no need to sit your child down and begin a long, boring dissertation about strangers, bathing suit areas, and boundaries. And certainly you don’t want to try cramming all the information into them all at once! Just start naturally, incorporating the dialog into your everyday lives, in a casual, loving fashion. There are also several entertaining and informative children’s books you can pick up for kids of all ages.

If you start out early in your child’s life, talking about the basic safety skills and rules, without making it a BIG deal, kids will naturally absorb the information and feel empowered and confident. It’s just a matter of “safe-smarts!”

For more information, or to book your own workshop, call 310-203-1330.

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